If you’re anything like us, you’d prefer to carry just a very light laptop around and be able to do everything from play DOTA to create complex Excel formulas without difficulty. That means: long battery life, good screen quality, decent graphics, SSD drives and plenty of RAM. These typically run into the thousands, and for years, hardware makers such as Dell and HP have been able to bang on expensive ultra-lightweight laptops or ultrabooks to keep their business going.
Chinese technology giant Xiaomi‘s announcement yesterday that it’s releasing an ultrabook, the Mi Notebook Air (hello, blatant ripoff). Although it’s gonna be released only in China, it’s also the first cheap-and-good ultrabook that will feature a discrete graphics card (a respectable GeForce 940MX) and priced at US$750 only. Other specs include 8Gb of RAM, 256Gb SSD drive and an extra memory card slot.
We’re still trying to figure out how the US$60 billion startup manages to sell such good hardware at such good prices but we’re psyched about it. And meanwhile as we wait for the Mi Notebook Air to be released outside of China, here’re our favourites on the market at the moment.
The irony of the Macbook Air (MBA) is that it’s no longer the lightest product in the Apple laptop arena. The Macbook (12″) stands at 920 grams, lighter than the 11″ MBA. So we’re rating the 2nd generation Macbook that was just released this year.
The Good: It’s the origin of the ultrabook look that everyone is now mimicking, that always adds some street cred. USB-C connection is also super fast. If you use an iPhone, there’s seamless integration with iOS via AirDrop and Messages. We hate the super-flat keyboard but it helps to keep the laptop a very svelte sub-1″.
The Bad: One port. USB-C may be awesome, but we’d really have appreciated at least another port (one on each end of the laptop) so we don’t have to string cables all around the table when charging. The laptop does get incredibly hot in long use. And the 10-hour battery life claim? Maybe if you were disconnected from the Internet, Bluetooth off, screen dimmed to a minimum and just working on Pages.
Razer Blade Stealth Ultrabook
Razer wanted to change the image of gaming laptops as overweight models that look like they’ve bulked up way too much on steroids and are now in ‘roid rage mode. In fact, they tried to keep the cost down as low as possible on their first Ultrabook in order to make it happen.
The Good: It’s got a 4K screen, relatively light and thin, looks good in matte black, can be customised and has plenty of ports (USB-C, Thunderbolt, USB, DisplayPort) and you can have the soon-to-be-released external graphics card when you need to make the beast run like a turbocharged Ferrari.
The Bad: It looks like any other laptop, and we do find Razer’s love of rainbow-coloured LEDs a little too much. But apart from that, the build is great. Battery life is even worse than the Macbook, though.
Dell XPS 13
Dell’s XPS series has been a corporate hit since day one, and the latest edition is even more appealing with its bezel-less screen. It makes the laptop so much more compact. It’s got all the standard specs, but the price tag climbs steadily as you add more functions, along with the weight.
The Good: This is a laptop that takes itself seriously. It has all the necessary ports, easy to operate, has plenty of battery life and enough juice to make sure Candy Crush runs smoothly. Just don’t expect Diablo at 85fps.
The Bad: It’s definitely on the heavier side of things, integrated graphics and for some reason, Dell’s webcam stands at 720p max. Why? We have no idea.
Microsoft Surface Pro 4
Sure, we’re talking about laptops and ultrabooks, so we should be discussing the Surface Book, but really, the Surface Pro is what’s made an important impact in the market. Along with the much improved Windows 10, Microsoft is steadily making a strong comeback.
The Good: It’s still too heavy to use as a tablet, but definitely much more comfortable today than in earlier editions. The new m processors are also fast and very quiet. It looks good and definitely different from the competitors out there. In fact, others are copying it now.
The Bad: It’s expensive. Even when compared with a Macbook, the Surface is not attractively priced. And at least give us the Type Cover with the purchase, Microsoft. I have to pay for a keyboard to use with a product that’s at heart still a laptop? That’s bit cruel.
Asus Zenbook 3
Asus took a clear shot at the Macbook with this one. It’s pretty much one-upmanship on the Macbook. You’ve got 512Gb of SSD? I’m doubling it. The Macbook weighs 920 grams? The Zenbook 3 comes in at 910 grams.
The Good: It’s specced out to beat the average user. And it’s got solid battery life. There’s plenty to love here, and the price isn’t cheap but it’s not horrific either.
The Bad: It’s also got the same fault as the Macbook – one USB-C port. Of all things, Asus, you should have one-upped that.